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First Drug Using Cannabis Compound Gets Federal Approval, But Will California Docs Be Able To Prescribe It?

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just approved the first-ever drug containing cannabidiol, also known as CBD. It’s an ingredient derived from marijuana plants, but it isn’t psychoactive like THC.

The new CBD drug is called Epidiolex, and it’s now approved to treat two rare forms of childhood-onset epilepsy — Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. These are severe disorders that start in childhood, and are characterized by frequent, difficult-to-control seizures.

Dr. Adam Numis, an epilepsy specialist and pediatric neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital, said this drug will give doctors another option to offer struggling families.

“There’s been a lot of interest in it,” he said. “Half the families I take ask about marijuana derived products.”

But in California, any product containing CBD is regulated by the state’s Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. It’s considered a highly controlled substance, and doctors can’t prescribe it.

Democratic Assemblymember Jim Wood authored a new bil (AB710) that would make it so any CBD drug approved by the FDA and designated as at least a schedule two drug — the second strictest drug category— can be treated like any other prescription medication.

Right now, Epidiolex is approved as a schedule one substance, but the Drug Enforcement Agency is expected to change it to a schedule two soon.

“AB 710 signals that the California legislature is taking this issue seriously, and is prepared to pivot on a moment’s notice to ensure that patients have unfettered access to CBD once those federal laws do finally change,” wrote Alison Malsbury, a San Diego attorney who works on cannabis cases, in a blog post.

The bill went to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk in late June.

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